A journey that began in tragedy two years ago ended Saturday in emotional triumph for the Henning boys' basketball team.
The No. 7-ranked Hornets won the school's first state championship in any sport with a 67-42 victory over No. 6 North Woods in the Class 1A final Saturday at Target Center. It comes nearly two years after teammate Jacob Quam was killed in a car accident.
"I feel like it was fate," Henning coach Randy Misegades said. "It felt like it was going to happen but, when it comes to fruition, it is remarkable."
Quam died April 13, 2017, when the vehicle he was driving was struck head-on by a semitrailer truck that crossed a highway center line in rural Otter Tail County. He would have been a senior starter/captain on this year's squad.
"We had more to play for than just basketball," Misegades said. "This is big for our community."
Henning, from a town of 800 in Otter Tail County, was making its first state tournament appearance since back-to-back trips in 1965 and 1966.
Quam's jersey, No. 33, occupied a vacant seat on the Henning bench throughout the season. During the game Saturday, fans chanted "33, 33, 33.'' At the awards ceremony, a championship medal was draped over the hanger with Quam's jersey.
"We were playing 6-on-5 [the team motto] the whole time," said senior Dylan Trana, who carried Quam's jersey into the postgame news conference. The last jerseys Quam wore for the Hornets hang in the lobby of the school's gymnasium.
Misegades received a text message from Quam's mother, Angela, before the championship game. He read it to the team. It said: "Tell the kids to lick their hands. That's what winners taste like."
They took it to heart. Henning came out and hit nine of its first 13 shots, sprinting to a 21-9 lead midway through the first half. Junior guard Parker Fraki was 5-for-7 from the field, including three three-pointers.
"I was getting open and my teammates were finding me," Fraki said.
The Hornets' defense also held standout Cade Goggleye of North Woods, a high school in Cook, in check. The senior guard was limited to five points on 2-for-13 shooting.
"They executed well offensively," North Woods coach Will Kleppe said. "You pair that with the aggressive defense they have and it's a tough obstacle to overcome."
Henning senior guard Sam Fisher had 14 of his game-high 22 points at halftime. The Hornets (31-1) led 36-17 by then. He finished two perfectly executed alley-oop passes from Fraki, who had five assists against the Grizzlies' zone.
Junior forward Trevor Morrison had 11 points to pace the Grizzlies (29-3), who set a state record with their third consecutive runner-up finish. They fell to Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 59-55 last year and Minneapolis North 96-49 in 2017.
"This stings, no fun," Kleppe said. "The memory of what we accomplished the last three years is what will last."